CHARLESTON, S.C. - Marci Christian homered twice and drove in seven runs, while Jennifer Giles hurled a complete game as Charleston Southern topped Coastal Carolina in the Buccaneers' home regular season finale on Wednesday afternoon, 8-5.
Christian went 3-for-4 from the plate with a grand slam in the bottom of the third inning to put the Bucs ahead early. She came through in the clutch late with the score tied 5-5 in the bottom of the sixth with a three-run shot to straightaway centerfield for her 23rd home run of the season as the Bucs picked up their 22nd home win of the 2015 season.
In a rematch between the two teams that have played for two of the past three Big South Conference Championships, the Bucs rode the hot bat of Christian and the steady pitching of Giles to the series win.
"You know every time you play Coastal, you're playing for something," said CSU head coach Shane Winkler. "That is the best team in the Big South year in, year out. Usually we see them in the tournament and that is our goal. If we end up playing them again, that means we are playing late in the bracket. They are a good team and we did really well to win a series against a good team like that."
Giles' (13-13) pitching helped carry the day for the Buccaneers as the senior right-hander, making her third appearance and second start of the series, went the distance in pitching around a rocky sixth inning to close out the contest by setting the Chants down in order in the seventh for the win. The appearance inside the circle, the 148th of her career in a CSU uniform, set a new Bucs' career record, surpassing Amanda Noble's (2004-07) record of 147.
"That is probably the best offense in our conference," Winkler commented. "They have the most power overall; One through nine in their lineup, they're all tough outs. Jen did a great job of pitching to the conditions today. She was great. It was her last game on this field and she left it all out there today."
Christian and Giles made up the battery together for their final home game in their CSU playing career and Christian had nothing but positive things to say about her senior teammate.
"Jen is a stud," Christian said. "She is going to perform at her highest level. It was the last time we were both going to play here on this field, so it was really important for us both to play well. Plus there was that connection between us as pitcher and catcher. It was really great to share that moment with her today."
Christian had a standout performance of her own in her final game at the CSU Softball Field. One day after getting walked three times and hit by a pitch three times, the redshirt senior catcher delivered with seven RBI and three runs scored, accounting for all eight runs scored by the Bucs in the ballgame.
"You can't talk enough about Marci," Winkler said. "That kid from day one has come in here and hit. She is the best offensive player to ever come through this program and really is one of the best offensive players in Big South history. She is going to be the reason we have success the rest of the way. Today she threw us on her back and got the job done."
The Bucs finish up the 2015 regular season on the road this weekend at Big South leader Longwood on Saturday and Sunday. First pitch in Saturday's game in Farmville, Va., is set for 1 p.m., while Sunday's season finale is set for 1 p.m.
"We are a battered and bruised team right now," Winkler said. "We've got two of our starters out for the year and a bunch of players in our lineup are really beaten up right now. We are playing on heart and passion the rest of the way and that is what this weekend will be about. We aren't competing for a regular season championship, but we are competing against Longwood for pride and to put ourselves in a positive position for the tournament."
Both pitchers were on early as Giles retired nine of the first 10 batters she faced, allowing only Kailey Mellon's two-out double in the third inning to break up the strong start. Her opponent inside the circle, Kelsey Dominik, matched Giles' start, allowing only a walk issued to Brooke Lein in the bottom of the second before the CSU offense exploded in the third.
Brook Richardson and Natalie Yonan led off the frame with back-to-back singles, putting runners on first and third with none out. Amanda Matsumoto beat out a bunt single to load the bases for Christian, and the redshirt senior connected on her second grand slam of the season and the Bucs' fifth as a team, driving a towering fly ball into the wind, landing just over the fence in left field to put CSU ahead 4-0. The Bucs continued to threaten in the frame as Hayley Elkins drew a two-out walk and Brooke Lein followed with a single to left center putting runners on the corners, before Dominik pitched out of the jam to end the inning.
The Chanticleers entered the game leading the Big South in home runs on the season with 73, and Morgan Noad added to the total in the top of the fourth, connecting on a 1-1 changeup with two outs, driving her second home run of the series over the right field fence to cut the CSU lead down to 4-1.
The Bucs took the run back in the bottom of the fifth as Christian singled and Stevi Johnson followed with her 11th double of the season to put two runners in scoring position with none out. A wild pitch allowed Christian to score, putting the Bucs up 5-1.
Coastal Carolina battled back in the sixth as Sara Rasley connected on a two-run bases-loaded double down the left field line scoring Kory Hayden and Noad to halve the CSU lead. Annie Robinson followed with a two-run single scoring Daneker and Rasley to even the game up, before Giles got Mellen to foul out down the third base line to end the frame.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, Christian again came through in the clutch for CSU as the senior came up to the plate with runners on first and second as Richardson singled and Yonan drew a walk. After working a full-count, Christian connected on a line drive against reliever Mackenzie Conrad (1-4), driving the ball beyond the camera platform in centerfield to put the Bucs ahead for good, 8-5.
Amanda Matsumoto tied the CSU single season runs record in the contest with her 49th run of the season in the bottom of the third inning. The score tied her with former CSU great Megan Lombard who set the mark during in the 2010 season.